Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers

by

Imbolo Mbue

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Behold the Dreamers: Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Neni goes to a café across from the public library in midtown Manhattan to meet her instructor, who tells her to call him Jerry. They’ve met at this same place twice already. This time, she brings along Liomi and introduces them. Jerry mistakenly calls Liomi “Lomein” and Liomi smiles. Neni prods him to respond to Jerry’s niceties. She then asks Jerry if he has children. Jerry says he doesn’t but wishes that he did. Neni jokingly offers that he can borrow Liomi. Jerry says that he’d take him, but that Neni shouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t give him back.
By bringing Liomi along, Neni can avoid feeling inappropriate for meeting a man alone, even if it is for school. She’s also getting to know her instructor on a more personal level. Her jokes about letting him “borrow” Liomi will foreshadow her idea to ask Jerry to adopt Liomi so that the boy can remain in the country and become American, even if she and Jende are deported.
Themes
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
This meeting is more comfortable than Neni’s first with Jerry. She spent the whole hour just nodding while he spoke, afraid of asking a silly question. By the second meeting, she’d pushed herself to ask questions, believing it was pointless to travel all the way downtown if she couldn’t take full advantage of Jerry’s offer of private tutoring. By this third meeting, she and Jerry are chatting about his background. She learns that his father was in the military and that he’s “lived in many parts of America and Europe.” She then tells him about her life in Cameroon and having never traveled more than forty miles outside of Limbe before coming to the U.S. Jerry expresses curiosity in her dream of becoming a pharmacist, but Fatou arrives at the café early with her two children, putting an end to their conversation.
Neni is initially intimidated by Jerry, fearing that she may ask a question that could be perceived as stupid or even thinking that her accent could make it difficult for him to understand her or to sympathize with her need for help. When she learns that Jerry has spent a lot of time abroad, it indicates that he’s a person who’s accustomed to and open to people who aren’t American. She’s also interested in how Jerry’s history of mobility contrasts with her life of relative inactivity in Limbe.
Themes
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
Fatou tells Jerry all about her and Neni’s plans for Mother’s Day, which reminds Jerry to call his mother. Fatou reminds him to do something nice for his wife, too. Jerry says that he isn’t married, but that he has a boyfriend. Neni and Fatou are shocked, much to Jerry’s amusement. Fatou says that she knew no gay men in Cameroon, though there was a man in her village who, she says, walked like a woman and who everyone said must’ve been a woman inside. No one called him gay, though, because he had a wife and children. She also says that there’s no word in their language to describe homosexuals.
Neni and Fatou’s shock is an indication that they have a preconceived ideas about what kind of life a man Jerry’s age should have and that such ideas are incompatible with the diversity of American life. The supposed non-existence of gay people in their Cameroonian village indicates that homophobia was common and that those who were gay felt pressure to conform to traditional lives. Otherwise, they risked ostracism or even death.
Themes
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
Neni timidly asks Jerry how he can like children if he’s gay. Jerry says that, once he’s done with school, he and his boyfriend plan to adopt. Fatou jokes that he should take one of her children—she’s got seven! Neni asks how many Jerry wants. He says that he’d like to have one or two kids.
Neni’s question is naïve and comes from being brought up in a culture in which expressions of sexuality and of family life are limited and follow patriarchal conventions.
Themes
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
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When Neni leaves her meeting with Jerry, she still registers her surprise to Fatou about him being gay. Fatou says that Neni’s surprised because she’s attracted to Jerry; Neni denies this. Fatou then asks why she didn’t tell Jende that she’s been meeting her teacher at a café. Neni says that she just didn’t want Jende to worry about his wife being on “a rendezvous on a Sunday afternoon with a young professor.” Fatou asks what’ll happen if Liomi tells him. She relates an anecdote about her cousin who did just what Neni did—that is, tell her husband that she’d be in one place, and then he passed somewhere different and saw her drinking a beer with another man. He dragged her back to their house and beat her. Neni asked what her cousin did about it. Fatou said that she simply learned her “lesson,” and the marriage continued.
Despite Neni’s increasing independence, Fatou reminds her of how the expectations for a Cameroonian wife are somewhat incompatible with the things that she now believes she should be able to do, like meet with whomever she pleases without first receiving permission from her husband. Fatou’s story about her cousin reminds Neni about the abusive control that men from their country can sometimes hold over their wives to remind them that life in a new country doesn’t free them from oppressive customs.
Themes
Family and Belonging Theme Icon